Bryan Adam Joyner
I don’t know if this album should have really been titled Naked Pain, Life Full Of Hurt, or Redemption and Grit. Any of those would have worked just fine, although Bryan Adam Joyner’s far too unassuming to even have considered the last one. But it fits.
There’s a blurb in the press section on Joyner’s website that reads like this:
“Bryan Adam Joyner’s raw, unflinching poetry dealing with suicide, paternal death, and love lacerated beyond redemption provides a paradoxical gut-punch that sends you reeling emotionally while intellectually craving the next line…damn powerful stuff.”
– Jud Block
If there was a brain in my everlovin’ head, I’d stop right here and call that the entire review. Because it nails it, dead center, bullseye is gone, nails it. There is something material to Bryan Adam Joyner that doesn’t necessarily jump out and manifest itself front and center at first glance. He’s the quiet guy, the shy one standing over there, not away from the crowd maybe but also not just right in the middle, part of it all. That guy. You talk to him and you get a sense that he’s truly grateful for the attention sometimes. As if you’re doing him a favor by letting him breathe your air. He just looks at his feet a lot, studies his beer, says “thank you” a whole bunch. But give him a bit to warm up, and a surprisingly expansive personality pops out. He’s got an opinion on a whole, whole lot of things. Likes helping folks out. Loves his kids.
And views music as the most direct path to salvation. Show the boy the way to a stage, and something happens to him. The veil comes down and right there in front of the crowd stands an entirely different man than the one who moments ago was just part of it.
Given the road he’s traveled, the need for salvation is not at all hard to understand. Most of us have gone through a range of challenges. Sometimes it’s issues with or loss of one or more parents. Or maybe a divorce, either one we wanted or one that submarined our life’s ambitions and nuked us to hell in a surprise attack. Maybe the realization that we’ve left our talents gathering dust under a bed or in a corner or a store room somewhere while we chased what we thought was the life and destiny meant for us.
Most of us, though, haven’t gone through all of those things. The ones among us who have, most often, well, they wind up like a line from an old Springsteen song and serve out their mortal sentence like dogs that have been kicked too much.
I knew exactly none of Bryan’s back story when we first met. He gave me a copy of his first CD, titled Hard Country, and told me it was just to have, not a request for a review or anything. That’s what his mouth said. His eyes told a whole different story. That CD stayed in the truck for a while, got a lot of long listens. It was beautiful on a musical level; the band was terrific and there were some harmonies and melodies that just soared. But not a single track on the record made me feel anything. Not a twinge. Certainly didn’t settle in and make me believe. It never got a review.
Now Just Me comes along, and while it contains some of the very same songs from that debut album, it reimagines them entirely. It is nothing short of visceral. Pop this record in and you cannot get away from it. One second you might be thinking “hey there’s way better singers out there” and the very next instant you’re stuck on “My GOD. This guy is pouring out a broken soul.” It’s unflinchingly honest in that regard, the epitome of the bareknuckle honesty we’ve often touted hereabouts. Ever tried to watch a grown man cry? Not an easy thing to do. Here, you watch one sing in a way that lets tears rush out like a river without missing a note. It is the damnedest thing I maybe have ever heard. And it leaves a mark.
The moments described throughout are fairly indescribable. From the very opening lines, where Joyner sings of an anniversary of sorts, they’re evisceratingly clear and they tear at you. That first track tells of a moment thirteen years ago – the moment she caught him, the moment she left. And later in the song, as the gun clatters to the floor, the moment when the protagonist dies. Was it a real death? A metaphorical one he’s doomed to relive every year on this day and more than a few of the moments in between? Was it his body that died, or was it a far more damaging spiritual death? These questions race through the mind as you listen, and you cannot get away. You can not. And the moments continue as the tracks progress. They range from the cheater’s guilt on the flight home to the graveside pain as a father who was a devil to a mother is laid to rest.
He was a bastard to my Mama
I wanted to kill him while he was alive
But he was always a good daddy
And I cried when he died…
None of our relationships are ever truly one-dimensional, and that’s perhaps never more true than with the ones we live through with our parents. In Joyner’s case, challenges with both parents made indelible marks. This song gets at the heart of every one of them, and the picture you’re left with is that of a good man who sees Mom and Dad for what they were and loves them anyway. Honest enough with himself to see the bad traits and poor choices for what they were without allowing them to block out the good. Able to discern and understand the worst of circumstances and avoid the easy trap of simply ascribing blame for the detritus left in the wake of hard times. Most of us could learn from that. Maybe a whole lot.
The record is full of moments like those. Joyner turns an unflinching eye on his own rotten circumstances, never failing to own up to those which are of his own doing. When it’s all said and done, you leave hoping he’ll find a way to view himself from the objective vantage point that guides his view of those who raised him. You recognize in him a heart both raw and resilient, and you consider yourownself and question the merit of the heart that beats within your own breast. Then you whisper a prayer or send some good mojo Joyner’s way, because you know in your bones a heart like his deserves to sing with joy. It’s just genuinely powerful stuff. Leaves a mark. Leaves a welt here and there. Forces a listener to step to a mirror and take stock of his or her own outlook, circumstances, and the choices coming up around the bend.
Which is what music ultimately is supposed to be able to do.
Just Me is a gripping, wrenching listen. With some comfort settling down in its deepest chasms.
More than worth your time.
www.bryanadamjoyner.com for more info.
Dave Pilot lives in north Texas with his first good wife (don’t ask about the other one), seven horses, and five dogs. When his wife’s not looking, he tries to figure out ways to feed the 987 or so cats to the coyotes out behind the fenceline. When he’s not trying to raise his kids to turn out better than he did, he’s hitting historical sites on his way to honky-tonks from Denton to Port Aransas. Visit Dave Pilot on Facebook.
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